Defining Your Audience: Info-Voyeurs or On-Stage Participants?
A standard marketing rule is to understand your demographics – know who your audience is, and speak to them. But with the fragmentation of the media industry (print, web, mobile, video, et. al.), the question is quickly becoming: how do you speak to your total audience? Both retirees and college students. The indie-rockers and the hip-hop kids. Bikers and cyclists.
The answer is slowly emerging: you establish a community (or a network of communites) in which these users can interact with each other, make sure it is hosted and curated by a trusted voice (or voices) in the field and then allow your users input into the news-making, -gathering and -publishing process. However, after you begin to integrate blogging tools or feature user-generated content, who these people are – and the way in which you speak to them – quickly changes.
The Pareto Principle (or 80/20 rule) when applied to audience has recently been said to look more like 90/10/1 – with 1% of the community creating the actual content, 10% interacting with it and the rest, simply “looking.” In fact, we’ve recently taken to calling our consumers some pretty curious names, like “lurkers” or “voyeurs.” I wonder if this implies the creation of our content is simply egomaniacal or something more deviant (like flashing or mooning)?
Even more curious is that with the birth of the Interwebs, we are now (companies and individuals alike) permanently, squarely and simultaneously in the center of the world stage. Where individual bloggers can be seen as poets or mimes, busking on a street corner and pushing their message with a single editorial voice, as media companies we now find ourselves in the business of improvisational theatre. We need to constantly be pulling the willing 10% of our audience onstage with us to flesh out the ad-lib commentary and dialogue on the content that the 1% create.
But I would further argue that in this new world of democratic and “participatory” media, the 10% on stage (or screen) with us are as much a part of the show as any writer, editor, producer or director. In fact, if we play our cards right, ensuring that the 10% stays relevant to the 90% (or that they at least remain watching or reading) it will most likely be from this community that we find new talent. By the same turn, any new talent that comes along, should be sent to and tested by the community (or communities) first – encouraged to comment, engage in conversation, contribute photos/video, etc. In short, become a member, and work their way up.
This community of voices will also help to define new “standards of excellence” as the critical voice dissolves into a forum of opinions (some brief and snarky, some well-executed). And so it must also be the media’s responsibility to continually educate its audience about net etiquette, methods of criticism, and past/present standards of something successful versus something popular. This is where we should excel. This is where we will foster not just a community, but a family.
Treating the audience as participants is clearly a departure from the ways of editorial print journalism and some will surely mourn the loss of the top-down, critical voice. Some will struggle to make old models work within the new landscape (forcing long-form investigative stories into blog pages or trying to do long-form video for mobile devices), but it is our task to implement and reconcile modern technology with new media systems – as generations before us did the same with the printing press, radio and television. Network-based and socially-based media will allow for greater (and eventually richer) conversations, market immediacy in the world of business/advertising, better real-world experiences (with the development of the mobile web) and ultimately what we’re all looking for – a sense of community, that our voice is counted, and that we belong to something greater than ourselves.